Thursday, April 7, 2016

Day of the Tentacle

Played on: Windows
Release Date: March 22, 2016 (June 25, 1993 original)

Warning: There are a couple of puzzle spoilers throughout.

In 1995, I spent most of my time in our dark, partially finished basement playing first person shooters like Doom and Wolfenstein.

I was also a giant Star Wars fan, so naturally I coveted Dark Forces. I wanted it so badly, but I was 11 and my paltry $2.50 a week allowance wasn't enough to cover the Dark Forces price tag.

Then one fateful day, I was taking in the giant wall of Sam's Club computer software, and I saw The LucasArts Archives Vol. 1. Ignoring most the games in the package, I saw Dark Forces included. My parents granted me a loan. I covered $30 of the package and forfeited my allowance over the next several weeks/months.

Dark Forces ended up being a three mission demo that came on it's own disk, but I couldn't see the text that said, "Demo" through the clear plastic window on the packaging.  I was taken like a chump. I can forgive the prequels, but this is the real reason I dislike George Lucas. (Just kidding, George seems like a really nice and cool guy)

It took me so long to figure out how to beat that terrible maze of a sewer level on Dark Forces, that the refund policy expired and I couldn't return this box of games.

Not wanting to feel like I lost money on the deal, I went ahead and installed Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle and what happened was magic.

I was immediately pulled into one of the toughest, funniest, and most rewarding adventure games I've ever played.

What I didn't Like

It's the same complaint everyone has about these sorts of adventure games. There are some really
obtuse puzzles in Day of the Tentacle.

Things like freezing the hamster, microwaving it, and then shrinking the sweater over 200 years so he wasn't shivering was not a logical thing for a middle-schooler to figure out.

The help wanted sign being used in the past to get the lab coat. You kidding me? How was I to know that Red Edison even needed help. And then I spent hours trying to get someone to put the lab coat on, not knowing that it was to be used to build a kite.

And that damn Boo-Boo Be Gone being used on the fence to paint a stripe on the cat. What the hell is BBBG? I never would have though BBBG would be white and there's no way I would ever think to use it on the cat. I spent most my time looking for someone that was hurt, thinking it was some sort of antiseptic.

It's a game where you sometimes have to go room by room just using items on every interactive part of the environment. There were times when I originally played this where I would flush every item between the time lines just so I had everything on that character and would go around just clicking everything for hours.


What was OK

... the thing that I liked about Lucas Arts adventure games is items could only be removed from your inventory if you used them correctly. And you would typically see some sort of animation or dialogue that would let you know you used things correctly. This sort of feedback seems like a "no duh" situation, but it was incredibly important in the age where every game wanted you to hate life.

For instance, the Sierra Adventure games were unforgiving. There were situations where if you didn't pick an item up when it was available, you wouldn't get a second chance at grabbing that item, meaning, you couldn't beat the game. The cherry on top of this poop pie was there was no way of knowing you screwed up that bad. People, me included would wander the game for hours and hours just trying stuff, not knowing we had already lost.

There are certain things that are a product of the time. For instance, one of the puzzles require you recording a sleep walking Dr. Fred putting the combination to his safe in. There weren't any words on the security equipment, just the universal symbols for play, stop, record, fast forward, etc.

I found myself stumped for a few seconds, trying to remember which one was the record symbol. And then the SP and EP settings... back in the day, that meant the difference between recording one movie or three on a single VHS tape. Playing that puzzle now, I didn't even notice that setting on the side of the monitor. I thought it was just supposed to be some generic switch in the background to make the security equipment look more impressive.

The director's commentary is great. It's interesting hearing the limitations the developers had to get around on ancient machines. Things like only being able to have 20% of the pixels moving during the full screen animations or the music file being too large for most computer's hard drives.

I would suggest leaving the director's commentary off the first time you play though. There are too many times where game dialogue is happening in the back ground while the director's are talking over it. It muddles both.

I also wish there was a way to continue the directors commentary once you walk into a new scene. There were many times where I would just let the character stand in a field so I could hear the entire track of DC. If I was able to move toward the inn while it still played, I probably could've cut 20 minutes from my total play time.

Saying that though, it cannot be easy to record commentary for a non-linear game. So I have to applaud them for figuring out a way to do it at all.

What I liked

The first thing that hits you is the art style. Capture perfectly is the Looney Tunes look, but with it's own twist. 

I remember very briefly my brother and I flirted with making an adventure game and because at one point I was a pretty decent artists, I was in charge of concept art. My first thought was, "I want to rip off Day of the Tentacle." 

I like that there aren't many straight lines. Everything has this beautiful, cartoon curve to it. The colors are beautifully chosen. 

And those character models... wow. 

I love the art so much that ever since my first smart phone, there has been a DOT background plastered behind my icons.

As a kid, I remember my computer didn't have enough power to play all of the sounds on the disk. I believe I left the voice on and turned the music off to get things to run. I only remember this now because I realize how little of the music I recognize. With how good the music is and how often you hear it, I would definitely recognize more of it. 

Most likely, and somewhat sadly, I probably turned the music off on the game to get it to run and blasted the Friend's soundtrack from my stereo as I traveled through time. 

Although the puzzles can be hard, when you complete them, they mostly make sense. 

Yes, wash the carriage because it always rains after you wash your car. Charge the battery with the lightning on Ben Franklin's kite. Give the suicidal man a note that makes it seem like he's not a failure. (Although there's a dark alternative timeline of what happens to that man when he reaches Baltimore.)

It's like a puzzle that you can't figure out and then you have that "aha" moment as you fall asleep. 

And there were a lot of puzzles where I had this recollection as to what I needed to do, but couldn't remember why. One of the first things I did was stick that hamster in the ice machine. I knew in the back of my brain it was important, but it would be 2 hours until I unlocked Laverne and realized why it was important.

And I've already mentioned it a few times, the humor is great. It's this pure humor that can be appreciated at all ages. It's the sort of humor that has made Pixar so successful, bringing something to the table for everyone. 

As a kid, I laughed at the fake barf and the exploding cigar. As an adult, I laughed at references like the hamster in the microwave and realized that Laverne may be the comedic genius of the game. 

Final Thoughts

I finished the game over two days, in around five hours. I had this big dumb nostalgic grin the entire time. 

It's the remaster most adventure gamers of the 90's have been waiting for, and it's glorious blown up on my big monitor, with remastered sound. 

Yes, some of the puzzles are incredibly tough. Yes, the pace of the game probably won't appeal to Call of Duty twitch players, but Day of the Tentacle is the Casablanca of Adventure gaming. It's one of the best written scripts, with the best hand drawn art, and the most rewarding puzzle design of any adventure game. 

Rating: Buy. Even if you have no nostalgia for the game or the genre, this is a part of gaming history that must be experienced by everyone into games. 

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